By Matt Gruhn
For the past 10 years, the personal watercraft industry has been developing a new image. Whether strategically or reactively, the industry has developed bigger, more costly, and in most cases, less agile watercraft. Meanwhile, the average age of its consumers has risen with nearly every new model year.
Whether or not the industry has been catering to a consumer who has aged with the sport or has dictated that consumers are older based on an equally escalating average price has become, in many corners, a chicken-and-egg argument. While the average age of a personal watercraft owner has risen from 35 in 1995 to 43 years old in 2002, the average price has climbed from $5,817 to $9,052. That’s an increase of nearly 56% on the price.
With the introduction of its new “3D” watercraft, Sea-Doo hopes to reverse those trends along with a few others. While the company says its new watercraft offers a multi-dimensional riding experience in one watercraft, the bottom line for the industry is that Sea-Doo has positioned the 3D to overcome a number of challenges that it believes the industry is faced with.
The watercraft itself has been launched as a three-in-one watercraft. What first appeared to be a stand-up at the February press intro, quickly converted to a sitdown. A seat folded out of the handlepole, and a seat post folded down out of the seat at the push of a button. The third option for this ride is to fold the seat and seat post back into the handlepole, secure the handlepole to the topdeck and place a seat (an accessory that isn’t offered as standard equipment) to the tray of the watercraft. This riding style, unlike anything on the market, now provides a go-cart-like experience, with the driver sitting mere inches above the waterline.
But for all the versatility that the watercraft offers consumers, it’s also opened up a new world of opportunity for the aftermarket and for attracting younger, Gen-Y-type enthusiasts.
OK, Sea-Doo calls them young adults, rather than the Gen Y audience, but you get the picture. And if you don’t, consider for a second how the company introduced the 3D to its sales managers.
Tucked away inside a college club, Sea-Doo based the introduction on a feeling young again theme. They snapped photos of their sales staff as they walked in the door and created a fake I.D. for each of them. Putting them in the mindframe that they were 21 years old again, Sea-Doo had videos of motocross, wakeboarding, snowboarding and other activities that today’s youth participate in.
The idea was to put the sales staff into the same mindframe as the targeted consumer. And Sea-Doo is holding true to that strategy throughout the introduction of this machine. You won’t see the 3D at any boat shows this year. You will find it, however, at surf events, wakeboarding competitions, and most likely the X Games.
The idea, as Sea-Doo says it, is to reinvent the way we think of personal watercraft. The real goal, however, is to “re-grow” the sport, according to the company.
The first step was to introduce a watercraft that would appeal to a younger audience. And by building this watercraft with the XP hull as its foundation, the company was off to a good start. Truth be told, however, “the company” had no idea this product was being developed until a group of its test riders — who had been piecing it together in their spare time — presented it to upper management a few short years ago. Having been built by a group of enthusiasts who admittedly were tired of riding 11-foot, three-passenger watercraft, this ride caters directly to the enthusiast or potential enthusiast from a younger generation.
The versatility of this watercraft doesn’t end with the Vert (stand-up), Moto and Kart modes, either. The handlebars can rotate front-to-back into three different positions for comfort and preference on throttle style (thumb vs. finger).
The next step was to make sure the price was in line. While the company says it did everything it could to drive the cost down, it landed with a base price of $6,999. This does not include the Kart seat, which is set at $599 retail price.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this watercraft is the aftermarket opportunities. While the engine utilizes the 782 cc, 110-horse, Rotax Fuel Injected platform and is therefore somewhat limited in its power-up potential, the hull, topdeck, and seats scream for accessorizing. Sea-Doo says it has many new accessories already on the table to complement this watercraft, but the opportunity for new seat covers (which are affixed with hook-and-loop closures for easy removal), a new handlepole, saddlebags, seat posts and so forth are seemingly endless.
From a sales standpoint, this watercraft will be built in limited quantities in 2004. It will be sold in Southern California, Florida, and a few in Texas this year, while a full production run is expected in 2005.
We were given a chance to ride this watercraft, and we were impressed with the possibilities. While the engine wasn’t entirely dialed in and left us wanting for more low-end power, the riding experiences — especially the Vert and Kart — were seemingly entirely new. The hull offers exceptional stability allowing you to shut the engine off and still stand in the tray without falling over. The Kart positions the driver so low that you almost feel one with the water. The Moto position was our least favorite, probably because its so close to yet less comfortable than the traditional XP.
But that’s the beauty of the 3D. When you grow tired of one experience, you can quickly convert to another.
Feeling young again
By Matt Gruhn